New York City must pay teachers half of the $900 million owed in back wages by October 31, an independent arbitrator said Friday.
The decision came two days after New York City informed the city's biggest teachers union on Thursday that it cannot afford to pay $900 million in back wages. The arbitrator heard from both sides Friday before declaring half of the sum must be paid this month with the second half due by July 2021.
"This is far from a perfect solution for thousands of members who are still owed deferred wages that can go back as far as ten years. The decision recognizes the city's difficult financial circumstances because of the coronavirus pandemic, but makes it clear that the city must find a way to meet its financial obligations to its educators," United Federations of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.
The decision includes job protection from budgetary concerns for members of the UFT for the remainder of the academic year and ensures educators will receive their 3 percent wage increase on May 21, 2021.
"As part of this Consent Award, the City acknowledges this Award provides for the delayed payment of pay increases attributable to the 2009-2001 round of bargaining, and such delayed payment constitutes an acceptable and appropriate contribution towards alleviating the COVID fiscal challenges faced by the City," the arbitrator's decision read, in part.
Citing the budget deficit and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan told UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a letter that it is "unable to make a lump sum payment to active and retired UFT employees as had been scheduled for this month pursuant to the May 1, 2014 Memorandum of Agreement."
Mulgrew said the payment was due this month, telling union members in an email, "This is unacceptable."
He said the payments are overdue wages that go back to 2009 and 2010 when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not grant educators the same wage increases other city employees received.
“We’re in for another fight,” Mulgrew told members in a video Thursday night. The union had been sparing with the city over the summer as to how to reopen schools safely and challeges that come with the pandemic continue to create more problems.
Scores of schools in New York City have been ordered to go to remote-learning-only again for at least two weeks because they are in or near areas where COVID-19 has been spreading in the community.